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Herman Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Whisky Creek on the Herman Creek Trail
Scorched gully, Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Poison oak on the Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), Herman Creek Trail
Looking back to Mullinix Creek on the Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Nick Eaton Falls on the Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Large western red-cedar at Cedar Swamp Camp (bobcat)
The hike up Herman Creek in the Columbia River Gorge (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Herman Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: East Fork of Herman Creek
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2970 feet
  • High point: 2,925 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family friendly: Yes, for a shorter distance
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: On summer weekends
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

Herman Creek is one of those lengthy but low-level Gorge hikes that allows for a day-long outing, or perhaps an overnight backpack, even during the dark, wet winter months - barring a big snow of course. It's an excellent rainy day hike, as there are few chances for broad views anyway. The seasonal waterfalls on the many stream crossings provide a picturesque respite. You won't see much of Herman Creek itself, but a worthy goal for a day hike is the point where the trail reaches the East Fork of Herman Creek near Cedar Swamp Camp. Large old-growth Douglas-firs and western red-cedars, especially in the upper reaches, are another feature of this hike, and the trail offers an impressive variety of wildflower blooms in the spring and summer. The area was severely impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, and for the first five and a half miles, until just before Whisky Creek, you'll be experiencing the aftermath of the blaze. There were only a few small areas of crown fire along the trail, but most of the ground cover was burned and is now regenerating from its roots. The creek is named after James H. Herman, an early settler near Cascade Locks.

The original plans for the Herman Creek Trail, dated 1913, are still in the care of the Mt. Hood National Forest. The trail was constructed around 1915 as one of the few primary trails (less than 12% grade) of the time.

There are several destinations along the Herman Creek Trail where you can turn around if you don't want to hike all the way to the East Fork of Herman Creek:


The path drops from the trailhead, but then switchbacks up twice before traversing. There are two more switchbacks in shady big-leaf maple, hemlock, Douglas-fir woods. Reach the powerline corridor and cross it, heading up to the right to reenter the woods. Here, you'll begin to see the effects of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, with the understory burned away but slowly recovering and the conifer canopy mostly intact. The path winds through an area of large, moss-covered boulders, and then passes an old forest track leading off the left (This track drops down to Herman Creek Road). Pass around the nose of a ridge, switchback twice, and traverse up to the junction with the Herman Bridge Trail #406E, 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Keep up on the main trail to switchback and then reach a bend in an old forest road. Stay right and head up the road, which levels in Douglas-fir, hemlock, and maple forest. You'll arrive at a five-way junction after 1.3 miles where the Herman Creek Trail reaches Herman Camp. The actual campsite is up the first trail to the right if you turn left here; in the 1970s, this spot was also a trailhead - if you were willing to risk your vehicle on the slow drive up the narrow road.

Keep right at this junction to stay on the old road bed. You're now entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness as per the new boundaries drawn up in 2009. Three hundred yards from Herman Camp, pass the Herman Creek-Nick Eaton Trail Junction (See the Nick Eaton Ridge Loop Hike.). The road bed dips into a bowl that experienced crown fire, but notice that numerous species of understory plants are staking their claim on the ravaged slopes; these include bracken, Solomon plume, fireweed, trailing blackberry, fairy bells, phacelia, sword fern, candy flower, miner's lettuce, snowberry, pathfinder, poison oak, thimbleberry, and spiraea. As the trail drops, you'll be able to hear Herman Creek rushing below, and you can see down to the ramparts of the narrow defile through which it funnels at this stage of its course. The path narrows after the old road bed ends, and you'll cross several trickling seeps before passing below some massive basalt battlements. Head into a lush gully where, 2.1 miles from the trailhead, you get to admire tall Nick Eaton Falls splashing down a mossy vertical face. The waterfall, the tallest along the trail, is a sight even in late summer.

The trail begins to rise again, and there are views across Herman Creek to the forested slopes on the east side of the Benson Plateau. You can see only patches of crown fire here, and most of the evergreen canopy has been preserved. On a high steep meadow, you pass through a copse of charred oak trees that are all coming back from their bases. Rosy plectritis, blue-eyed Mary, and larkspur bloom here in the spring. Descend to cross maple-shaded Camp Creek three miles from the trailhead, and then pass below a scree slope which was entirely scoured of its beautiful moss and licorice fern blanket during the Eagle Creek Fire. From here, the trail drops to cross a trickling creek where a seasonal waterfall splashes down a mossy face. Head up under un unburned oak meadow, and continue a rising traverse to cross a bracken-carpeted bench shaded by scorched Douglas-firs. Come to the Herman Creek-Casey Creek Way Trail Junction, 3.6 miles from the Herman Creek Trailhead. Just past the junction, on your right, is Casey Creek Camp nestled under tall old-growth Douglas-firs. An unmaintained spur trail drops down from here about 300 feet and 0.3 miles to the Herman Creek Forks, where there's another campsite. Note, however, that the spur trail, once the beginning of the now lost West Fork Herman Creek Trail, has all but disappeared under debris from the Eagle Creek Fire.

Hike into the deep gully of Casey Creek, and traverse up to pass through an area of crown fire and then enter the bouldery gully of Hazel Creek, where you can try to spot a small waterfall upstream. The trail crosses an open scree slope before passing below Slide Creek Falls, five miles from the trailhead, which diminishes to a splashing trickle by late summer. Slide Creek Falls is also where poison oak ceases to be an obvious trailside presence. Cross another slope that experienced a very intense crown fire, but then drop to cross Mullinix Creek with its large cedars and hemlocks. Hiking up, you'll finally exit the 2017 burn and enter a dense old-growth forest of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western red-cedar with a leafy vine maple understory. Pass a sign warning of the hazards of the burn area, and note a couple of campsites down to the right. Step across wide, mossy, tumbling Whisky Creek.

The trail heads gradually up, crossing a creek and then some small brooks. Looking carefully, you may note the porcelain insulators from an old telephone line on some of the trees: The insulators run up the Herman Creek Cutoff Trail to a World War II signal hut. Cross a tumbling brook among large Douglas-firs and hemlocks. The trail passes by skunk-cabbage seeps with massive cedars now becoming a more obvious feature of the old growth mix. Hop over another creek before the trail levels at the junction with the Herman Creek Cutoff Trail #410. Soon enter the area of Cedar Swamp Camp, a lush bog where venerable old-growth cedars hold sway. As you continue, you'll cross small creeks and a broken footbridge. The trail drops, and silver and noble firs enter the forest mix, indicating that you've crossed into the montane zone. The path crosses a swampy area on a raised bed and then drops to the East Fork of Herman Creek.

This is the turnaround point for this hike. if you're continuing farther, see the Wahtum Lake via Herman Creek Hike. The East Fork is usually a ford except in late summer/early fall and Seven and a Half Mile Camp is just above the crossing.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Herman Creek Trail #406 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms, information kiosk, picnic table at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavich
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L Sullivan
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Columbia Gorge Hikes: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, Volume One: Oregon by Zach Forsyth
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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